Some have called Wynonna Judd’s group the Big Noise the powerhouse singer’s “third chapter,” following the Judds, her multi-award-winning duo with her mom, Naomi, as the beginning and her acclaimed solo career as the follow-up.
The artist herself doesn’t seem all that comfortable with labels when asked about the description. “I kind of want to run from that a little bit,” she said in a recent group phone interview that included four media representatives.
The chat preceded her band’s upcoming tour, which will begin with a show Thursday in the RCU Theatre at Pablo Center at the Confluence.
Warming up to the question, she pointed out she’s been “acting all my life” and that a childhood friend noted “I have always had a guitar in my hand, and I sang, sang, sang.”
But if a word is needed, she’ll look to the natural world: season. And, to judge by her explanation, fans who attend her Pablo Center show may indeed experience something like a season — at least if that implies beauty, variety and unpredictability.
“I am in a very sassy … ‘I’m-going-to-get-away-with-as-much-as-possible-in-Wisconsin kind of place,” she said with a mischievous laugh. “So I may sing Tom Petty and then turn around and sing something from the album that Jason Isbell sang on,” she added. “And then I may break into … “I Want to Know What Love Is” acoustically.”
The reference to Isbell, an Americana singer-guitarist, applies to the album “Wynonna & the Big Noise,” released in 2016. Isbell, who sold out Eau Claire’s State Theatre three years ago, was among the guests on the album that show how wide-ranging her musical interests reach. Blues singer-guitarist Susan Tedeschi and Tedeshi’s husband-bandmate Derek Trucks contributed; Timothy B. Schmit of the Eagles also made a guest spot.
To state the obvious, Judd also can draw from a recorded treasure trove that includes many No. 1 singles, including “Mama He’s Crazy,” “She Is His Only Need” and “No One Else on Earth.”
Listening to her enthuse about her interests, it’s hard not to see the depth of her love of music.
“It’s really a crazy, wonderful time, and my husband has given in to my request for my absolute freedom of, OK, what do you think about this because I’m listening to everything I’m researching right now,” she said. “I’m a musical researcher here. I’m studying everything from the Mighty Clouds of Joy to Bessie Smith to CeCe Winans ... I’m listening to her right now. I’m just really creatively trying to pinpoint how to focus and put it all in one big happy package.”
Beyond those country, blues, gospel strains that have been part of her repertoire since she stepped into the spotlight, she even mentions Bruce Springsteen’s triumphant Broadway run, which she had recently watched.
“Have you guys seen that?” she asked the gaggle of questioners. “It’s pretty awesome; I mean I am so inspired by seeing that, and I’ve known Bruce a long time and I’ve seen him and he’s like my music mentor father spirit.”
Still, she added, the star turn impressed her. “I’m going, ‘Wow, stories and songs.’”
Judd even suggested she might be open to a similar one-person theatrical treatment of her life and career.
She also was asked if the frequency in which she appears at a location has any effect on the set list, and she segued into observations about the varied make-up of her audience on a given night.
“I’m noticing 20-somethings, I’m noticing the 90-year-old woman who comes down in front and says, ‘Hey, my name’s Betty and … I do everything. I go to concerts, I go to dances, I sing.’ It’s wacky, it’s wonderful. Try to figure it out? Yeah, good luck.”
She continued with a colorful description of her crowds.
“I saw a guy on one of the shows … He had really fabulously I-don’t-give-a-crap hair ... and he had on a T-shirt that said Murder on it. I said, OK, let’s do this. And I stuck a mic in his face, and he sang the chorus of ‘Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days).’ And I thought, guess you can’t judge a book by its cover, right?”
Asked if she’d be interested in continuing to act, as she has at various points in her career, she said she’s open.
“I told my agent, ‘Look. If you want to put me in something where I’m completely opposite of what I’m doing now, don’t hesitate to call me because I will play a prisoner on the run … whatever.”
As her words imply, she approaches this career season, and those that follow, with enthusiasm and boldness.
“I’m not afraid of anything,” she said. “And it’s just because I’ve done a lot, and I’m not afraid. And it’s awesome to be this age and not have that fear and look forward to having as much joy and getting away with as much as I can.”